Street Smarts

They'd never turned on a Mac and had no clue how to raise money . . . but they started an international magazine in their living room.
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This story appears in the February 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The wild ride began two Augusts ago, when Ginny Ferguson, 41, and Denise Brown, 38, strewed premiere issues of Bikes & Spikes--their sassy Minneapolis-based motorcycle magazine geared toward women--all over the tables of motorcycle industry execs at a Sturgis, South Dakota, press party. They were too green to know it was inappropriate for the occasion. But by night's end, they were signing autographs.

Describe your publishing experience prior to starting Lipstick & Leather Publications.

Denise Brown: I produced newsletters, wrote employee manuals and edited legal briefs as an assistant for a law firm.

Ginny Ferguson: I was a regional manager for TJ X Corp.

Did you ever expect to publish a bimonthly magazine?

Brown: Understand, we rolled out that premiere magazine for fun. We didn't plan to be publishers--we just thought, "Let's see what happens." We gave [issues] away in Sturgis, and at the beginning of the week, no one knew us. By the end, we were a little bit famous. When we came back, we had two weeks to write the next issue. So Ginny quit her job in August [1998], and I quit in October. Then we just hit the road and literally sold the magazines out of the trunks of our cars.

How did you bankroll the venture?

Brown: We used credit cards; I refinanced my house and bike; Ginny refinanced her car and truck, and used her stock options and 401(k) account.

Ferguson: We took the Band-Aid approach, raising enough capital to keep printing one more magazine. After the fifth issue, it became unbearable to raise $40,000 every two months, so we decided to get other people involved and raise enough capital to take this magazine to the next level.

How do you boost publicity?

Ferguson: We leave a magazine wherever we go. You have to start in your hometown, then go regional and nationwide.

What are the drawbacks to being women in this testosterone-driven industry?

Brown: Initially, it was like, "Aren't they cute?" Men [were constantly giving us] verbal pats on the head. It takes a lot of nerve to do what we've done--we've orchestrated meetings with sophisticated businessmen without having a true sense of what to do. But we're fast studies.

Edition: March 2017

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